Not all those who wander are Lost Iguanas [Lake Atitlán, Guatemala]

Chris & I made a pact when we started our new project that we would stick out 5 years at the company, garnering the ever-coveted month-long sabbatical, and then quit to travel. The main reason for enduring 2.5 more years of willing enslavement was the same one everyone sites: money. Through wit & good fortune, Chris had already amassed enough passive income to live indefinitely in most of the world, but I thought I needed to pad my accounts some more before I could make my odyssey happen.

That pact lasted approximately 2.5 months, and we have Lake Atitlán and La Iguana Perdida to thank for blowing it apart like the ’95 eruption of Cerro Negro.

After four absurd days in Nicaragua, we ventured north to Guatemala for the latter, free-spirited half of our trip. Anticipation peaked on the four and a half hour shuttle from the airport when the site line broke to this view:

And again when our lakefront hostel glampsite presented itself. It was too bad that the folk therein didn’t live up to the venue itself. Dinner felt like a high school cafeteria segregated by clique trenchlines – we were the new kids. A few dismissals of friendly conversations were enough for us to call it quits on the crowd and that’s where the best part began.

People often focus their travel around the how, when, and where but I’ve found the important things end up centered on the who. We wandered not five minutes down the shoreline to La Iguana Perdida, where owners Dave & Deedle have fostered a beautiful micro-community for backpackers & locals alike. Purposeful lack of wifi, family style dinners and amazing staff hosting nightly activities make it hard not to melt into the warm atmosphere like butter. And with the help of some social lubricant, we quickly formed the little mess that made it so hard to leave. Also, this breakfast view didn’t hurt:

We spent our first morning learning the finer points of altitude diving under the tutelage of our quiet, thorough guide, Jorge. He lead us through sunken hotel balconies, pool and bar, buried our hands in volcanic-thermal-heated sand as fishies floated above, and ensured we weren’t his first clients to try a hyperbaric chamber. 

His passion for helping other people find joy in movement was apparent. That night Jorge co-lead a hostel-wide salsa lesson. I can still hear him urging us to stop thinking, quit counting and just move to the music. He later lit up telling his story – first, the dream to become a soccer coach, getting accepted to an Argentinian coaching academy, and the enchantment of a single night dive driving him to defer and become a divemaster.. following his own earlier instructions to let your inner music move you.

La Iguana was also the place that two total strangers offered my revenge ridden body their own beds to sleep in. I’ll absolutely never forget the kindness of Alanna & Jorge those nights. And if you’re wondering why I didn’t have a bed it’s because the place was full up and we’d haggled our way to sleeping in outdoor hammocks for $4/night.. yet another testament to the fact that expensive hotels and fancy dinners won’t bring you anywhere close to the happiness that good people and memories provide.

I could tell hours of stories about the folks that enticed us to willingly sleep outside in December but it won’t have the same zeal as actually learning a new drinking game called “Dutch Piggy” from honeymooners Dan and Olivia.. tossing back shots of Guatemalan moonshine that Oliver, or Olivia as he called himself on their standing cross-dress-up night, poured from a milk jug.. Listening to Alicia and Robert’s acoustic folk melodies live in the dining area after scratch-made dinners (check out “A Different Thread” on Spotify!).. or hearing Tim explain how he lobbied his boss back in Australia for a year of time off to travel.  

Yet perhaps the best thing about our time on Lake Atitlán, was how easy it was to completely forget the outside world. We woke up only to the sunrise and boat taxi drivers yelling “Pana! Pana!” Our heaviest obligation was getting back to the hostel for family dinner. It was such a reprieve from the constant nagging of outlook and death by spreadsheet that we decided 2.5 more years was too long to put off being able to enjoy things as simple as willfully getting lost on a hike, in a book, and in the moment. 

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